Sexual Assault in the Military

The Pentagon released a report this week indicating that sexual assaults in the military spiked from approximately 19,000 in 2011 to an estimated 26,000 assaults in 2012, reflecting a 37-percent increase over the one-year period. This data, coupled with the low percentage of cases that result in court-martial, has led a flurry of legislative action addressing this disturbing trend.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the Pentagon “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 871) that is supported by FRA and would provide specialized legal assistance to military victims of sexual assault, as well as revise some of the procedures for court-martial cases related to sexual assault.

Reps. Mike Turner (Ohio) and Niki Tsongas (Mass.) introduced a bipartisan measure (H.R. 1867) in the House this week that would require dismissal or dishonorable discharge for any service member found guilty of sexual assault or attempts to commit such acts. The Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013 would also prevent any military officer from altering or dismissing a sexual assault court-martial conviction.  

Other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), support ending the process that permits senior officers to overturn a jury conviction in such cases and called on senators to include provisions addressing the issue in the 2014 Defense authorization bill.   Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y) and Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittees, respectively, have issued statements that this issue will be addressed during their panels’ upcoming mark-up of the FY 2014 Defense Authorization legislation.

FRA has addressed this issue in its recent Capitol Hill testimony and also supports the “Ruth Moore Act” (S. 294/H.R. 671), sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine), respectively. The bills seek to improve the evaluation procedure for VA disability compensation for veterans with mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma.

Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to support related legislation:

Click here to support the “Combating Military Sexual Assault Act” (S. 871).

Click here to support the “Ruth Moore Act” (S.294/H.R. 671).